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July 2007

The Cost Balance

936643982_29533328a5_2Do you get tired of employees asking for more money and not appreciating everything that your company does for them?  No matter how you balance the package it is never enough.  It can keep you up at night, and it can also start to distort your view of your employees.  You may start to criticize the performance of all employees, even your stars, because of the frustration.

The cost of an employee is expensive and in many cases employees have no idea what the true costs are.  They may fail to realize or remember that wages are just part of the picture.  They forget about taxes, the different kind of insurances that may be offered, retirement benefits, vacation, sick leave, holidays, and many other costs that companies cover for their employees.

This is not a new or novel idea in the business world, but bringing it up for those who have not heard of it has merit.  You may want to consider a yearly statement that is handed out to your employees that reflects all of these costs.  It provides an employee a different perspective on how the company spends resources in relation to each individual.  It also provides the information for a great discussion on how the company tries to balance the costs associated with employees.  The balancing act will never satisfy everyone, but it can bring an appreciation for the process and costs that companies must consider for their employees.

Flickr photo by bebalance

Does the early bird get the shaft?

So... are you an early riser?

Do you love to get to work early... so that you can leave early?

You know... get in a few hours before everyone else... so you can get things done without anyone else around.At_work_early

Mmmmm.  Does the thought of a sunrise, a hot cup of coffee on the desk and a quite office make your heart sing?

Then go for it.

BUT when you do... be strategic. 

Why? 

Well... as you know... many offices have an unwritten rule.  It's "The last one to leave is the MVP." 

Heck... forget leaving early... in some cases... just leaving on time can sometimes lead to a perception that you must not have enough to do. 

Sound familiar?

So... what's an early riser to do?

Well... Laura Stack, a productivity guru, lists some excellent insights on helping the early bird get the worm... not the shaft.

Maybe Laura's post on getting in early... and getting out early... will grab your attention, but you might push back because of having trouble with getting up in the wee hours of the morning to take advantage of the quiet early-morning moments in the office.

Well, then check out Dave Cheong's 15 tips on getting out of bed early!  It'll help you get going... with or without double doses of super-high-octane caffeine!

Okay... now I'm off for another cup o' coffee and a few more quite hours in the office.

How about you?  What are some of your strategies for going in early... and getting out on time? 

Photo credit: marklein

Bonds - and I'm not talking Barry!

Delivery_truck_2 You just purchased carpet from your favorite floor covering store and can't wait until you're walking barefoot on that plush carpet. You hired a contractor to install it - and got his business card from the wall of cards posted at the home improvement store.

The only problem now is that it's 2 p.m. and the contractor was supposed to be there at 8 a.m. to install the carpet. Where could he be?

It turns out, he never shows up and you don't have your carpet.

In my last post, I talked about contractors delivering carpet or appliances to your residence. This brings up a serious discussion about suretyship.

Surety bonds are used in a wide variety of circumstances, including public private and commercial situations.

The three C's of a contractor are Character, Capacity and Capital. Before a surety bond will be issued, the three C's are considered.

What type of contract bonds are there?

Bid bond - This is given by a bidder for supply or construction contract to guarantee that the bidder, if awarded the contract within the time stipulated, will enter into the contract and furnish the prescribed performance bond.

Peformance bond - This guarantees faithful peformance of the terms of a written contract for furnishing supplies or for construction.

Payment bond - A contractor gives this to guarantee payment for the labor and material used in the work which he is obligated to perform under the contract.

Maintenace bond - The normal coverage provided by a maintenance bond is a guarantee against defective workmanship or material.

Is it better to pay a little more for a job and know that it is going to be completed? Or do you want to take a chance and be completely without?

Check out the Surety Bond Blog for more details.

You'll find more information about Surety Bond programs here: Surety Bond Guarantee Program helps contractors grow.

Your Project Does NOT Run On Remote Control

RemotecontrolAs a small business owner, you may be tempted (probably even encouraged) to delegate more and more activity to those below you (or outsource it altogether).  Finding that balance between doing it all yourself and doling it out to others is a delicate tightrope.  If you do decide to let others work on your projects, you'll need to avoid the "curse of the remote control."

Projects do not run well with absentee project managers.  If the project manager is AWOL, decisions do not get made and things screech to a grinding halt.  Things don't get done.  Excuses get made.

It's OK to delegate and/or outsource.  In order to avoid being a "hit and run" project manager, there are a few safeguards you can put in place:

  • Be clear on outcomes and deliverables.  Define what it is that you are after and what the parameters are for decision-making.
  • Make sure people know about roles and responsibilities.
  • Set clear points for interaction (weekly, bi-weekly, or at a minimum, monthly), both written (through status reports) and face-to-face.
  • Create a culture that is free of fear.  If your people are afraid of you, they may not tell you when something goes wrong... until it is too late.
  • Hold people accountable for their commitments.  If somebody says that they will be complete with a task on Friday, talk to them the Monday prior to make sure the task will be done so they know it is on your radar screen.  If they miss the committed target, make sure there are consequences.
  • Celebrate successes... just as you will hold people accountable for short-comings, you will want to balance that with rewards for performance.

Doing some of these things will keep your project (and you) actively engaged and avoid the remote control.

Carpe Factum!

Communication is the Key to Great Customer Service

Geek_2 Around certain corners of the blogosphere, my experiences with the Geek Squad have become the stuff of legend. The positive follow-through of Robert Stephens and his team led my wife and I to buy our next laptop from Best Buy and to purchase the extended Geek protection.  I've met Robert Stephens and I know his commitment to deliver an exceptional service experience.

Thus it was that we found ourselves back at the Geek Squad counter at Best Buy with my wife's four-month-old Toshiba laptop in the throes of a full-out crash. The agents dutifully agreed to recover all the data they could and, under our service agreement, to fix and restore the computer. This was one of my wife's busiest weeks at work and she was suddenly, hopelessly shut down. She was frustrated, depressed, and anxious to get her lap top back.

While the Geeks' technical abilities have been elsewhere questioned, I have never had a problem with their technological acumen. They know their stuff. If there has been any issue with their service, it's in the human soft skills. Through the weekend, promises to call us with updates were not honored. When we finally called for updates, agents referred to other computers ("No, my touchpad did not need to be replaced"), couldn't find our paperwork, and had to find the "right agent" to call us.

Great communication is the cornerstone of great service.

  • If you need to update the customer, commit to a time frame - even a general one.
  • Make sure you call the customer back, even if you only call to say, "we're still working on it - but I wanted to honor my promise to call."
  • Be organized and have your stuff together. Nothing will destroy customer confidence like not being able to correctly identify the correct case/account/issue and speak confidently to the status of the issue (i.e. "I was calling you back about...let's see...where was that sheet?...can you remind me what we were doing for you?")
  • Speak honestly, clearly and concisely to the issue. If something isn't going right, explain the action plan to make it right and provide an ETA to resolution.

My wife's laptop was back to us on Monday and she is is going through the agonizing process of re-installing her on-line life. I was actually impressed that the agents were able to fix it and turn it around over the weekend. To their credit, the Geek Squad agents at Jordan Creek acknowledged that they had dropped the communication ball along the way, apologized and made it right. My wife drove away from the Best Buy store with her laptop and a  great customer service reminder.

Do You Own YourName.com?

Myname Look at your business card (you do have one with you, right?). Except for your logo, what's the largest item on the card. Your name, right?

Your name is an important part of your business. Hopefully, folks remember it. Scott Ginsberg practically wears his name on his sleeve. I've never talked with Scott in person, but I'll always remember his name.

I don't have Scott's blog address memorized, but I simply typed in www.scottginsberg.com and got there. You can find Tom Peters or Steve Farber the same way.

Now, type this in your web browser:

www.<Insert Your Name>.com

Find anything?  Do you own your domain name?  You should.

Let's try a few others:

The last example is important. Even if you don't publish anything right away, you should secure yourname.com (and your kid's names, and your those of your grandkids).

Simply scoot on over to GoDaddy.com, secure your name for $10 and park it.  Don't think too many people have your name?  That's what I thought, too.  Thankfully - I'm the owner for the domain of my name.

Who owns your (domain) name?

You can't create cool. Can you?

Picture_2_2 Let's face it.  Everyone is envious of Apple right now.  They were the king of cool with the iPod.  But then they got out cooled.  By the iPhone. 

Who doesn't want to be the iPod or iPhone of their industry? 

But that's the rub.  The more you chase cool, the less likely you are to catch it.  That's the premise of the book Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today's Cluttered Marketplace by Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman.  The book interviews brand visionaries about how they discovered, invented or in some cases, tripped over cool.

Here are a few cool deal breakers:

How many of those are you guilt of?

The book is an interesting read.  While it gets you fired up, wanting to be cool -- my beef with the authors would be that 90% of their examples are retail, consumer products.  It's a lot easier to be cool selling an iPod than it is being an accountant. 

That doesn't  make it a bad read.  Just fair warning. There's still plenty of inspirational stories and solid reminders of how we can better invite cool into our companies.  But I would have liked it if they went one step further and helped more with the "how to" section.

(Full disclosure: The publishers sent me a copy of the book.)

Trademark FAQ

Trademark Nearly every business has a trademark, but few know what a trademark is. Even fewer take the steps necessary to protect what for many companies is their most valuable asset. A little knowledge can not only help you choose between "good" and "bad" trademarks, but can help steer your company clear of a trademark lawsuit costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I am asked about trademarks:

So what is a trademark?
A trademark is a mark that identifies goods or services coming from a particular source. The mark may be a word, name, phrase or symbol. By identifying goods or services as coming from a particular source, consumers can go back to that good or service time and again, relying on the quality they have grown to trust.

How do I "get" a trademark?
You cannot obtain trademark rights unless you actually USE the trademark in commerce in association with goods or services. Without use, there is no trademark. Even if you have a trademark, if you stop using it, it will go abandoned after a period of time.

What are the different types of trademark protection?
Once you start using your trademark in commerce, you obtain what are known as "common law" trademark rights.  Common law trademark rights can be effective in obtaining an injunction or a judgment against someone infringing your trademark, but they do not provide all of the benefits associated with state or federal trademark registration.

Every state provides for both registration and enforcement of trademark rights. While these state protections involve a small cost, they typically offer little more protection than common law rights. Accordingly, most companies opt for either free common law protection or much more valuable federal law protection. Federal trademark registration involves governmental and attorney fees of approximately $1,200 and about an eighteen month wait.

What are the advantages associated with federal trademark registration?
Registered_2 Federal registration provides several advantages over common law and state law trademark protection. Like common law and state law protection, federal trademark registration allows you to recover the damages a trademark infringer has caused your company.  Unlike those two weaker types of protection, however, federal registration allows you to recover your attorney fees and up to three times your actual damages if the infringer of your federal registration is found to be "willfully" infringing your trademark.

Federal registration also allows you to use the ® symbol as a warning to would-be infringers and constructive notice to everyone in the country of your ownership of the trademark. Federal registration provides several other benefits, including incontestability, and prima facia evidence of the validity of the trademark and your ownership thereof. Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks can last forever, as long as you keep using them.

Are some trademarks easier to register than others?
Yes. How easy it is to register a trademark depends in large part on how descriptive the trademark is of the particular product or service provided in association with the trademark. For example, if the product is bananas the trademark "Banana" would be deemed “generic,” and would not be protectable at all. Similarly, the trademark "Yellow" would be deemed “descriptive,” and would also not be protectable. The trademark “Monkey Stick” however, would merely be “suggestive,” and would, therefore be protectable. Suggestive trademarks do not provide enough information to determine what the good or service is, but trigger that mental "Ahhh" after you find out what the good or service is.

What are the easiest types of trademarks to register?
Not surprisingly, the easiest types of trademarks to register are the ones least preferred by marketing departments. "Arbitrary" and "fanciful" trademarks are the easiest to register because they do not describe or suggest the goods or services. This is the exact reasons marketing departments shy away from them. The trademark “REGAL” for bananas would be “arbitrary,” whereas the trademark “Baaan” would be “fanciful.” Both arbitrary and fanciful marks are protectable and registrable.

The question to ask in determining whether a prospective trademark is likely to be registrable is “Would my competitors likely use the word in their marketing of the product?" If so, the trademark is probably protectable, if not, then the trademark is probably not protectable.

While arbitrary and fanciful marks may seem initially less attractive, once the public associates the trademark with your goods or services, as in the case with eBay, the trademark can become extremely valuable with a broad scope of protection.

Can things other than words be trademarks?
Yes. Logos, symbols, colors, sounds and smells can all be protectable trademarks if they are not descriptive and uniquely identify your goods or services.

Should I register my trademark?
To determine whether you should register your trademark, you should examine several factors.

  • How much is the trademark worth to the company?
  • How likely is it that someone may infringe the trademark?
  • How likely is it that a competitor will obtain rights in the trademark by using the trademark in a different geographic region?
  • How much would it cost your company to have to change trademarks?
  • How much value would a trademark registration add to your company's intellectual property portfolio?

Once you have the answers to these questions, visit with an intellectual property attorney to determine whether a federal trademark registration would be right for your company. Many intellectual property attorneys offer a free consultation to determine whether or not a federal trademark registration is warranted.

Even if the decision is not to proceed with a registration, it will not have cost you anything and at least you have the piece of mind knowing what you have and where you stand at when it comes to trademarks. 

Losing Money - Some Hobby

When running a business, it's normal and healthy to try to make money.  That's the point.  It's also normal and healthy to try to lower your taxes.  But when the only way your business makes money is because the losses cut your taxes, things can go awry.

The tax law's "hobby loss" rules disallow deductions from "activities not engaged in for profit."  The preferred way to avoid problems with these rules, of course, is to make money, but the tax law recognizes that profits don't always happen.  But if you never make money, the IRS gets suspicious.

Some activities are "red flags" that invite hobby loss trouble.  Naturally, these tend to be things that people do for fun.   Raising horses, racing, and golfing are activities that the IRS has challenged as being "activities not arranged for profit."

Another "red flag" is a pattern of losses continuing over a period of many years.  If you continue to lose money over time, the IRS naturally suspects that you aren't really running a business, but are instead trying to deduct personal expenses as business expenses. 

Amway distributors have had their share of trouble with the hobby loss rules. A quick search of a tax law database shows over 40 cases where Amway distributors have lost court fights with the IRS. The earnings pattern for an Amway distributor in a recent Illinois case illustrates how to invite hobby loss trouble:

   Year       Income             Expenses      Net Losses
    1996         $10            ($ 1,625)       ($ 1,615)
    1997         357             (13,177)        (12,820)
    1998         625             (17,504)        (16,879)
    1999       1,450             (17,384)        (15,934)
    2000       3,235             (23,001)        (19,766)
                _____             _______       _______
    Total       5,677             (72,691)       (67,014)

One commentator cites three typical problems for Amway distributors who have lost in court: "a sustained series of losses; the use of Amway losses to offset other income; and a failure to conduct the distributorship in a businesslike manner."

So how do you ward off an IRS hobby loss challenge?  The tax law looks at a number of factors, including whether the taxpayer has a credible business plan for turning a profit; how carefully the taxpayer keeps records; and whether the taxpayer changes tactics to try to reverse losses.   These really all come down to: do you run your business like a business?

The moral? If the activity loses money over a period of years, and the losses offset income from another full-time job, there's tax trouble brewing.

5 Tips on Getting and Staying Connected (4)

This is the fourth segment in a 5 part series (Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

If you've ever had an extended conversation with me, you've undoubtedly heard me say... "We volunteer about 80% of our time."  That is still the truth today and it's still my recommendation for others...

TIP #4 - Volunteer Your Time to Those in Need of Your Expertise
In this case, don't volunteer to get something back.  Volunteer because you know you can help someone out.  If you truly give your time, you'll see benefits in the long run.  Here are some thoughts to keep you motivated to volunteer.

  • Tithe Your Time:  Don't expect to receive anything back for your time.  Give your time and forget about it.  After all, if you give with the expectation of getting something in return... you're giving for the wrong reasons.
  • Watch Success Be Created:  Mark, Measure and Track where you started and where you finished with each volunteer project.  You'll be amazed at the results you will produce.
  • Be A Bridge: Strive to bridge gaps within industries you see that need help.  Independent operators have a hard time marketing themselves and running their business; find them and ask how you can help them market.  Done right, you can have a hand in their successes.
  • Grow With Your Clientele:  Far too often, we place constraints on future clients.  Some can't afford to pay you, but if you are creative with your expertise, you will be remembered when a company can afford to pay you.

As your network grows, your personal value will grow as well.  Set yourself up for future success by volunteering your time.  After all, it's people we do business with and it's those people that will make you truly valuable.

Related Posts Elsewhere:
- Volunteering that Pays by Cheryl Rankin
- How Volunteering Can Grow Your Business by Michelle Waters

For Today's Lawyers It's All About ESI

In today’s business environment, organizations need to respond to an increasing number of document requests, from regulatory compliance issues to internal investigations to full-scale litigation. Much of this information is available electronically. Despite the prevalence of such document requests most organizations remain reactive rather than proactive when it comes to dealing with the issue of electronic discovery.

In reality, electronic discovery of documents has been around for several years. But on December 1, 2006, the federal courts amended its rules regarding electronic discovery. Organizations can no longer afford to be reactive when it comes to the discovery of electronically stored information (ESI). Organizations not prepared for electronic discovery could face fines and/or sanctions if they are sued in federal court.  (FYI:  It is also expected that Iowa will soon amend its state civil rules regarding electronic discovery making it imperative that all businesses in Iowa should prepare for discovery of ESI).

One way to prepare your organization for the new federal electronic discovery rules is to have a solid document and email retention policy. If don’t have such a policy you need one but even organizations that have a policy should review their policy to make sure it covers issues that may come up under the new federal rules. Some important issues to cover include, but are not limited to:

  • The name of the custodian for electronically stored information;
  • A list of servers and back-up tapes used by the organization;
  • The different ways employees save information in the organization;
  • How to implement a litigation hold including email back-up.

It is important to have your IT staff involved in the process. Many organizations will write a policy but fail to take into account the various ways the organization actually stores information. ESI is present, not only on office computers, but also laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones, other PDAs, and even cell phones.

Fortunately the new federal rules provide a “safe harbor” provision for those organizations that inadvertently destroy ESI during the routine, good faith operation of an electronic information system. How do you qualify for this safe harbor? The best way is through the implementation of an ESI management system that is actively enforced and audited. Investing in an ESI management system is likely to pay big dividends down the road if you are ever involved in litigation and is critically important under the new federal rules regarding electronic discovery.

For more information regarding the new federal electronic discovery rules, document retention policies and ESI management, you may want to check out my podcast with Brett Trout on electronic discovery issues.  Another great resource is the Electronic Discovery Law Blog which I highly recommend.

The Secret is NOT Time Management!

How many "time management" books have you read? How 'bout a workshop dedicated toTimemanagement  helping you get organized...attended one of those sometime in your life? As well-meaning as all of those efforts are, they don't get to the real issue. Because you can only cram so much work into an hour. You can only speed up so fast.

What is the secret to working less, and at the same time, earning and enjoying more? Apply the 80/20 Rule. This principle --the Pareto law -- asserts that 80 percent of what you achieve comes from 20 percent of your time. Sounds contrary to what we normally expect, doesn't it? But it's true. It's one of those universal truths (and is supported by chaos theory). It applies at work, at home, in society at large. It's there, and real, and available, whether we exploit it or not.

Even though we've all heard of it, the 80/20 Rule is still one of business's best-kept secrets. What do we need to do to apply the 80/20 Rule?

We need to always be asking ourselves:

  • what is the 20 percent that is leading to 80 percent?
  • what are the vital few inputs or causes, as opposed to the trivial many?
  • where is the melody being drowned out by all of the background noise?

Interested in learning more about the 80/20 Rule? Check out Richard Koch's The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less. Koch does a great job of outlining business uses for the rule, such as: strategy, quality, IT, cost reduction, service improvement, marketing and sales. The Secret IS the 80/20 Rule!

Photo on flickr by mangee

Shock, Blush, The New Beginning

280123118_70a8031a1f_m_2Shock - The response of employees that are asked for input by their manager, CEO, or owner.  Shock - The response of employees when the manager, CEO or owner actually acknowledges that an employee exists. 

Are you one of the leaders in your organization that walk by employees everyday not knowing their name?  Are you a leader that take customers through your business and totally ignore the employee right in front of you?  Quit being status quo - try shocking your employees.

Blush - The response of an employee when they are recognized for their efforts.  A simple task that too many leaders ignore.  When was the last time you saw one of your employees blush from embarrassment because you acknowledged their efforts?  Step up and make it happen.

The New Beginning - When leaders make Shock and Blush part of their regular routine, employees start stepping up to challenges.  The company culture will ignite like a new star, and begin to radiate a new energy that drives company and personal growth.

New beginnings are rare in our world today. Shock & Blush, and you will get to be a part of a new beginning!

Flickr photo by steev

Does your cell phone help or hurt your work life balance?

After wrapping up some meetings this morning, I jumped in my car to drive back to my office. 

I started my car.  I pulled out of my parking space.  What do you think I did next?

Yup.  Without even thinking... I grabbed my phone to check my voice mail and my e-mail.  (Sound familiar?)

But... for some reason... this morning... I stopped. Text_1

I just looked at my phone, almost like I wondered how it got in my hand.  Can you relate?

I mean... I didn't even remember grabbing the thing.  But... there it was. 

It was like urban-jungle instinct.  I didn't have to think about it.  I just did it.

Get in car... check voice mail.  Stop at a stop light... check e-mail. 

It's almost like there is an unwritten mantra that says "Spare time = check in."

Is this a bad thing?  Maybe... maybe not. 

I'm just wondering if it becomes bad when it becomes habit.  You know?

I don't mean to wax poetic here.  I don't want to just point back to simpler times while playing the theme song to the Andy Griffith show

But... in that moment this morning... it struck me.  I have a new habit.  Grabbing that phone and "checking things" is just what I do several times a day. 

And I'll admit that sometimes... it's when I need to... but many times... it's when I don't.  Can you relate?

I will even admit that I can be tempted by my "habit" after hours or when I'm with my family. 

Oh... you know... that quick check of e-mail just to make sure there isn't a crisis or a tidal wave to deal with. 

But it's easy to get sucked in... isn't it?  And then... you're distracted for a few minutes... or sometimes... a few hours. 

And the "habit" causes you to miss stuff.  Sometimes it's a morning sunrise and sometimes it's a conversation with someone important.

So... have I sworn off checking voice mail or e-mail?  Nope.

But... here's what I came up with.

Before I dive into my handy technology... I'm going to ask myself a simple question.

"Am I doing this because I need to?  Or am I doing this out of habit?"

It may not be a perfect system... but I'm betting that it'll help me see a few more sunrises and have a few more conversations about super heroes with my kids.  And today... that's good enough for me. 

How about you? 

Does technology help you balance your life... or does it get in the way?  What boundaries work for you?

Click comments and join in the conversation.

If you want to find out more about the subject of work/life balance and mobile phones, check out Peter Suciu's recent post. Click here.

Photo Credit: dewayne

What's personal is personal

Home_business_2 Small business owners, young entrepreneurs, and even independent salespeople (for example, Silpada distributors), face some of the same questions when it comes to insurance coverage. 

Think about insurance this way: What’s personal is personal and what’s business is business. It all sounds like simple logic but seems to get very confusing and can be when it comes time to submit a claim.

Your everyday exposure
For example:  Everyone seems to have a computer these days at their home and is looking to make a quick dollar here and there.  At what point are you running a business out of your home?

E-bay has become the portal for many entrepreneurs to sell their product.  If your house catches fire and your computer goes up in flames, how are you going to collect on your money that is floating out there?  Is your computer even covered?  Who has coverage if you are having a Silpada party at someone’s home and a candle gets knocked over and causes a small amount of damage to the home that is hosting the event?

Off to that presentation
Let’s examine a personal auto policy.  You are a small business owner or entrepreneur and are driving to your destination for that great presentation.  Your cell phone rings and you realize it’s on the other seat, you reach for it and at that split second the car in front of you stops.  The crash occurs! 

Your sales samples and laptop fly forward and are damaged severely.  Not a problem, right?  You’re insured. Well, the personal auto policy excludes loss to business or office equipment, or articles which are sales samples or that are used in exhibitions.

What about that handyman contractor?
I’m not picking on contractors but they love their pickups (so do I). And they are a necessity if you are a contractor or handyman. 

Have you seen a pickup lately?  They have huge aftermarket rims, tires, lift kits, and running boards.  I can only guess an added cost in upwards of $10,000. 

Are these items covered under your personal auto policy?  As a contractor, do you ever carry items that might be business related?  Examples are dishwashers, ovens, countertops, even water heaters.  Are these items covered? Are these items you pick up for the homeowner?

These examples are very generalized and they only way to make sure you’re covered is to talk to your agent.  Don’t worry if you feel like your insurance agent is interrogating you.  Questions need to be asked in order for an insurance agent to do his or her job.  I don’t know very many insurance agents (or companies for that matter) that don’t want to write business.  I do know they don’t want to lose business due to lack of coverage.

Should You 'Fire' Unprofitable Customers?

Sprint created a firestorm in the business world and the blogosphere when it was announced that they recently fired 1,000 customers. According to Sprint, these customers called multiple times a day regarding issues that Sprint claims were resolved. Other inside sources claim that these customers continued calling to demand credit. Customer Service reps were exhausted dealing with them so they continued giving small credits. Over time these customers were racking up credits worth thousands of dollars. Sprint

Our group has faced a similar dilemma with clients. What should a bank do with customers who call multiple times daily to check their balance, making sure they have enough money in their account to buy lunch? These customers refuse to use other avenues of communication. They refuse to check on-line or use the automated phone menu. The net result is that the customer becomes a revenue drain. The customer is costing the company rather than being part of a profitable relationship. Should a company put up with this situation to avoid the negative word-of-mouth that Sprint has faced? Should you allow a few customers to con the system and write it off as black-mail payment?

I have heard heated points of view on both sides. Some argue that you should never, ever fire a customer like Sprint did. These folks cite options Sprint might have taken such as creating a surcharge for each call to the customer service line. But wouldn't this create another firestorm of negative word-of-mouth and more calls to complain and demand credit? Others argue that Sprint made the right move. They argue that you can't let customers take advantage of you and applaud Sprint for having the guts to make a tough call.

Wherever you stand on this issue, it's an important conversation to have. How can you stay in business if your customers cost more than they generate? What do you do with these customers?

Post a comment and share your own thoughts.

Are We There Yet?

OdometerreadingWith summer vacation upon us, there will always be road trips.  And whenever children are dragged along on road trips, that four-word question will always strike fear into the hearts of grown-ups everywhere.

Are we there yet?

There was a point in my life where I was actually really good at estimating the time left on a trip... almost to the minute.  When my wife would inquire about this amazing skill, I'd simply smile and respond, "Rate x Time = Distance."  Then we added two kids to the mix.  So much for estimating skills.  The whole rate/time/distance formula gets thrown out the window for requisite bathroom breaks, Happy Meal stops, points of interest, photo opportunities, etc., etc.

That's kind of how it works with our project tasks, isn't it?  We're really darn good at estimating as long as we know all of the variables.  And estimating how much is left on a task should be easier still, shouldn't it?  After all, we've started the task, and so we should be able to figure out what is left.

There's a little variable called "Estimate To Complete" (ETC, for short) which can become your best friend (or worst enemy) in answering the "Are we there yet?" inquisition.  In a perfect world, it is simply the budget for the task minus the actual already expended.  Hence, if you said you would spend 100 hours on a task and you've spent 35 hours on it already, your ETC is 65 hours.  Yes, I did say that would work in a perfect world, and you want to know how it works in your imperfect world.

One possible solution is for you to simply re-estimate the time left.  If you've spent 35 hours on your 100 hour task, but you know you have 80 hours of work left, you simply change the ETC from 65 to 80 (which also means you've just given yourself a 15 hour variance).

Another approach is to use an earned value mentality.  Many project managers I know make this concept a lot harder than it needs to be.  In its basic form, you compare the hours expended with how much work actually got done (I know, I know... brilliant, isn't it?).  So... staying with our previous example, let's assume that the 35 hours of work you've expended only completed 20 hours of actual "stuff" that had been budgeted to get done.  That means that you're now taking 75% more effort to get the work done so the originally budgeted 100 hours will also increase by 75%, or become 175 hours.  Since you've used up 35 of those hours, your ETC becomes 140 hours left.

OK, I can see your eyes starting to glaze over.  Enough technical talk.  I think we all agree that this is important.  You have stakeholders and customers and suppliers and employees along with you on your "business" trip who all want to know, "Are we there yet?"  With some simple calculation tools, you can now answer that question.

Carpe Factum!

Add RSS Feeds to Your Web Strategy Toolbox

Rss Is email marketing dead?  Not entirely, but it's changing. And RSS might be taking its place in the batting order.

Raise your hand if you've ever deleted an email newsletter that you subscribed to. Everyone (that's honest) has their hand raised.  Sometimes we delete pieces we still want to subscribe to, we just don't have time this issue, right?

Raise your hand if you've ever tried to unsubscribe to an email newsletter (how frustrating is that process?), and after unsuccessful attempts, just decided it would be easier to keep deleting the darned thing.

You in the back, you can put your hand down. How's that? You have email accounts just for email lists you join? I notice a lot of heads nodding (is yours?).

One company I work with shared these numbers with me:

Subscriber List: 3,348
Open-Rate: 326 (9.7%)

Subscriber List: 620
Reach: 198 (22.3%)

The top numbers are from their email list. They confessed the list isn't 100% opt-in, they've added roughly half the addresses from various other sources (shame on them).  I'm sure the numbers would be higher had they not dilluted the process.

The bottom numbers are from their blog's RSS feed. 100% opt-in. (Note: Open-Rate and Reach are pretty much the same thing. How many users actually opened the item)

Here's one thing not told above. They send an email blast once or twice each month (total of 652 opened email each month). They update their blog an average of 3 times each week (total of 594 opened feed items each week).

The email service charges a small monthly fee. The RSS feed service is free.

An email newsletter can still be effective. However, RSS is proving to be at least as effective - maybe more so. With the recent addition of Feedburner to the Google family of tools, the measurement of RSS will become an integral part of your company's web strategy.

Related Articles Elsewhere:
- What the Heck is RSS? by Brian Clark
- Email Open Rates Guide by Mark Brownlow
- And There Was Much Rejoicing... by FeedBurner

Related Books
- Web Analytics by Avinash Kaushik
- Email Marketing by the Numbers by Chris Baggott

What motivates people to buy?

MindOne of the biggest challenges for business owners and marketers is to step out of their own shoes and slip into the shoes of the buyer.  You need to put aside your own bias and perceptions and always remember that when creating marketing messages, the bottom line is - you have to create the need in the potential buyer's mind. 

Always ask yourself -- does my marketing answer the question: Why should they exchange their hard-earned money for your product or service?

Having an understanding of the human psyche pays off here.  It sounds deceivingly simple, but all human decisions are motivated by one of eight things. 

  • Time/convenience
  • Money
  • Recovering something lost (like youth)
  • Sex
  • Knowledge/self improvement
  • Security/safety
  • Comfort
  • Care of loved ones

Knowing this, how could you change your communications to better trigger a response from your audience?

Get Your Money's Worth Out of Your Lawyer

Getting your money's worth out of your lawyer means finding a lawyer skilled in the particular area of the law in which you have a need, and then using that lawyer for those things you cannot have done more efficiently by someone else. Is it worth paying a patent lawyer $300/hr to draft a patent for you? I think the general consensus would be "Yes." Is it worth paying a divorce attorney $200/hr to mow your lawn? Probably not. It is not that the divorce attorney is not capable of mowing your lawn, it is just that you can probably do it more efficiently yourself.

What can you do and what do you need your attorney to do? The question is one of legal INFORMATION versus legal ADVICE. You should try to gain as much legal information as you can and use that information to more effectively leverage the legal advice you get from your attorney. Educating yourself on the law, allows you to get more out of your attorney and may even allow your attorney to obtain better results for you at a lower cost. You and your lawyer are a team. The more you know about what your lawyer can do for you, the more synergistic the relationship.   

Where do you get legal information? Blogs, government websites and law firm websites  are all chock full of valuable information about the law. Unfortunately, these sites are also full of inaccurate and slanted information. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Your attorney should be able to recommend some websites and other reading material capable of providing you with a basic legal primer on the area of law of interest to you. The more quality legal information you assimilate, the more fruitful discussions with your attorney will be.

If all of this legal information is out there, why do you need an attorney at all, and why am I telling you all this? Well, just because you read up on surgery does not mean you will be able to take out your gall bladder. Clients who start supplanting their legal advice for that of their attorney are causing more problems than they could ever hope to solve. There are just too many unknowns, too many variables to try to navigate legal issues yourself. Just because you COULD remove your own gall bladder does not mean it would be a good idea. Even lawyers rarely represent themselves. They know more than anyone that the small savings realized by not hiring an attorney is far outweighed by the costly ramifications.

Educating yourself, however, will allow you to ask better questions and assimilate expert advice more effectively. Good attorneys prefer well-informed clients who take ownership of their legal well-being. Paying $300/hr to have an attorney regurgitate legal information wastes time and money. Paying a skilled attorney $300/hr to propose a legal course of action on a legal issue you have educated yourself on may be the best money you have ever spent.   

What Kind of Critter is an LLC?

Llc20070711Lara Croft? Lemon Lime Centerpiece?  What does it mean when a business name ends in "LC" or "LLC," anyway?

It means that the company is a "limited liability company."  This type of business format made its U.S. debut in Wyoming during the Reagan administration, but LLCs really took off in 1996 after the Treasury spelled out the often convenient tax consequences of these critters. 

In short, they allow taxpayers to have many of the state law benefits of corporate form - such as protection of owners from personal liability for the entity's actions - without the inconvenient tax consequences of corporate form.  Or to put it another way, they provide the tax benefits of partnerships or sole proprietorships along with a layer of liability protection.

What are these tax benefits when an LLC has multiple owners?  They are general tax benefits of the partnership format.  It's usually possible to get assets in and out of a partnership tax-free; it's much more difficult to do so when working with a corporation.  Owners get to include their share of LLC borrowings in their basis, which can provide extra deductions in the right circumstances.  Corporations can have joint ventures with LLCs without incurring the extra level of corporate tax they might otherwise have.

The Tax Nothing

An LLC with only one owner is a "disregarded entity" for tax purposes.  It's treated as if it didn't exist; the LLC owner is treated for tax purposes as if he owns the assets directly   If your single member LLC owns a business, you just report it on your schedule C; if the LLC is a landlord, you use Schedule E; and if it owns a farm, it goes on schedule F.  That means the LLC doesn't require a separate tax return. 

The mystery of the missing LLCs

Even with these advantages, LLCs still haven't taken the world by storm.  IRS statistics show that S corporations are more popular.  There are several reasons for this:

- LLC owners are treated as partners for employment tax purposes.  That means they aren't supposed to get W-2s and withholding; instead their compensation is supposed to be "guaranteed payments."  That means the owners are supposed to pay quarterly estimated tax payments instead of having taxes withheld, and the income is reported on a K-1, rather than a W-2.  Many owners don't care for this.

-While there is uncertainty on this score, an LLC owner who works for the LLC is likely to face self-employment tax on all of his share of LLC income - not just his "salary" or "draw."  While S corporation wages are subject to the usual employment taxes, S corporation earnings reportable on the K-1 are not subject to SE tax. 

- While partnership taxation is more flexible, it can also be more complicated. That's great for us tax geeks, but not so much for actual taxpayers.

- Owners of Iowa S corporations that do business in other states are eligible for a tax credit based on sales outside of Iowa.  This credit is unavailable to LLCs.

LLCs are most common when self-employment tax isn't an issue - for example, in rental real estate or corporate joint ventures.  They are also great for situations when an S corporation isn't possible - for example, when an individual or an S corporation wants to enter into a joint venture with a C corporation.  They're an important part of your tax pro's toolkit, and you'll be seeing more of them.

5 Tips on Getting and Staying Connected (3)

This is the third segment of a 5-part series (Part 1 | Part 2)

If you buy into the theory that a business needs to be connected to be successful, then you may also buy into the theory of associations.  You may also have doubts on whether or not associations will truly help your business grow.

TIP # 3 - Join an Association
Call them an association, call them a chamber, call them what you will... they cost money and it's important to watch where every dollar in your business is spent.  Here are some suggestions when joining an association:

  • Be Picky.  There are several different associations that you can join, so be sure to ask questions from current members and former members.
  • Your Dues Are An Incentive.  Sounds strange, but you should view your dues as a reason to attend events.  If you pay a yearly fee and don't attend the organizational events... you're wasting money.
  • Be Proud.  You know you're involved with the right association when you won't hesitate to drop their name.  If you're not willing to share who you're aligned with; you're aligned with the wrong group.
  • Volunteer For Them.  You paid money to join, but that doesn't mean your time shouldn't be allocated to get involved in your association.  View your time as promotion for yourself and your business.  You'll be amazed at the connections you'll make.
  • Help Them Help You.  It's important to find ways to help your association grow and improve.  Far too often, businesses expect their dues to be the cure-all for their business.  Dig into the association and see how you can help them improve you.  After all you, as the business owner, know exactly what resources you need in order to grow.

We're passed the halfway point of the 5 part series!  #4 and #5 are on the way...

Previously: Part 1 | Part 2

Drug Testing Basics for Iowa Employers

An employer recently called me to inquire about a drug testing policy.  The employer received reports that a delivery driver had driven while under the influence of alcohol.  These types of occurrences often serve as wake up calls.  Drug-testing can deter such behavior.  So it makes sense to implement drug tests, right?  Well . . . maybe.   

I have dealt with many employers who were surprised by the requirements of Iowa's drug testing law (Iowa code section 730.5).  Before making a decision on drug testing, several factors should be considered.

The types of private sector workplace drug testing in Iowa includes:

  1. Unannounced testing of workers randomly selected from pools of employees.
  2. Testing of employees during, and after completion of drug or alcohol rehabilitation.
  3. Testing of employees for reasonable suspicion.
  4. Testing of prospective employees.
  5. Testing of employees, as required by federal law or regulation or by law enforcement.
  6. Testing of employees in the investigation of workplace accidents that cause sufficient injury or damage to require a report to OSHA.

But the responsibilities of employers that drug test are many, including:

  1. The employer must establish a detailed written drug testing policy - prior to testing - and provide it to every employee subject to testing.
  2. The employer must establish - prior to testing - and maintain either an Employee Assistance program or a resource file where workers can access help for substance abuse problems.
  3. The employer must provide supervisors with a minimal amount of annual training (2 hours the first year, and 1 hour each year thereafter).
  4. In the event of a positive alcohol test in which the alcohol concentration exceeds the levels established by the employer - and under certain other conditions - the employer may be required to pay up to $2,000 in rehabiliation costs for the employee in question, depending on employee benefit plan coverage.
  5. A laboratory doing business for an employer that conducts drug or alcohol tests must file an annual report with the Iowa Department of Public Health by March 1 of each year concerning the number of positive drug and alcohol tests during the previous calendar year.

Before deciding to drug test you should make sure you review the requirements of Iowa Code 730.5 with your employment or business lawyer. Performing drug tests may be necessary in your business but you need to make sure you are acting within the requirements of the law. Mistakes could be very costly and subject you to significant liability.  The costs of drug testing may be more than many small businesses want to spend. And just because you do not test doesn't mean you cannot have a policy prohibiting drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

See this post on Avoiding the Pitfalls of Drug Testing for an example of why it is so important to follow Iowa's drug testing law.  Be sure to get appropriate advice before implementing a testing policy.

Make Accountability Real

Accountability Almost nothing in an organization, and I mean NOTHING, is more important than holding people accountable for doing what they've said they are going to do. When people fail to live up to a commitment...and then nothing happens...trust and respect are eroded. And we all know how important it is to feel like you can trust and respect the individuals that you work with every day.

In some companies, Results = No Results + A Good Story.

Getting by with letting things slip, simply because "something came up" or "someone came by" is rampant in the workplace today. Admit it. What kinds of commitments can people in your organization miss without anyone discussing them? Or maybe they're discussed -- but then dismissed -- because there's a good story involved. Do you want to ramp up productivity and efficiency where you work, without adding staff or investing in new technology? Then...Make Accountability Real. 

Employees have to know (ie, trust and believe):

  • In advance, that they will have to answer for their actions and results.
  • That there's a fair and accurate way to keep track of their results and that their behaviors will be tied to real consequences.
  • That they will have to explain their results to you, up close and often.
  • That accountability starts on day one. Today is always day one.

Does this sound harsh? It isn't. It's what we all want, as employees ourselves. To know what's expected of us. To get feedback frequently about how we're doing. And to be rewarded for doing well, or helped to get back on track if we go astray.

Photo on flickr by nybri

Consistency is Cool

400294654_8e42e309de_2 Getting your employees engaged requires consistency.  They need to see leaders be consistent and they need to know that company policies are applied consistently.

In regards to leadership, one of the biggest weaknesses for leaders is their lack of consistency.  The data shows that an Attila the Hun leadership style that is consistent is better than the leader that one day is angel and the next the devil.  These angel/devil leaders can truly be the ruin of a good employee.  I am sure you have seen it action - the employee can never appease the leader because they are never confident on which leader shows up for the day - angel or devil.  I encourage all leaders to evaluate their consistency by asking their employees directly or through some type of survey. 

Consistency in the application of company policies is equally important.  I am sure that many of you have policies, but are they applied consistently to everyone in your company.  Do managers get exceptions to company policy or do your managers apply policies on favoritism and friendship?  If so, you will have a huge uphill climb in getting your employees engaged.  This is true even if you are the owner or CEO that is a consistent leader.

If you go to the work to create policies, then you must follow those policies - if not - do not bother in the effort of writing policy or creating employee handbooks.  Once again, if you want to know if the company policy is applied consistently - ask your employees.

Take the plunge into cool and be consistent!

We Need New Heroes

Stoops When it comes to life/work balance... we need new heroes. 

To that I say... "what about Bob?"  Bob Stoops that is.

By college football coaching standards, Bob Stoops is all screwed up.  By work/life balance standards... he's right-side up.

College football coaches are supposed to have horrible schedules with travel and watching game tapes until 3 AM.  They're supposed to demand the same of their staff... with team meetings at 6 AM after spending the night on the office couch.  They're supposed to squeeze their family in on Sunday afternoons before heading to one last meeting to review the weekend's game.

Well... nobody told Bob Stoops.

Instead of staying at the office until late... he's usually home by dinner.  He holds Wednesday-night "family-meetings" that allow his coaches spouses and their kids to turn the Sooner's football offices into a gymnasium.  Oh... and he doesn't start his day until 8:45 AM, so that his staff can participate in their family's various morning activities.

The world might think that his approach would damage his effectiveness.  But... his record would suggest otherwise.  (Stoops has a combined record of 86-18 -- the second most wins by any Division 1-A school and the best record of any BCS school during that stretch.)

Plus... the announcement about his salary last week also helps to prove that this work/life balance can be done and that it can be done... and done well.

Is it possible in your industry? 

Is this kind of balance possible in your life?  Maybe.  I don't know.

But... it's important to know that people are doing it.  It gives us hope.

Yup. 

It's important to have heroes.  And even though I'm not even a college football fan... I've got a new hero in Bob Stoops

How about you?  Who are some of your heroes when it comes to work/life balance?

More importantly... what's something you do... could do... or want to try to do to become better at this work/life balance thing?   

Photo on Flickr by BillyA

Don't Raise the Bar if You're Not Willing to Jump

Doug over at Service Untitled recently posted about his experience with renting a car from Hertz:

Everyone has a point where they experience customer service that is not exceptional, but is fine. When it’s just fine (not bad and not exceptional), it can really stand out. That’s what happened to me at Hertz a week or two ago.

Doug's post makes the point that sometimes it's a good thing when a company makes sure that the service is "fine" before they worry about making the service "exceptional". In other words, you can't be above average until you make sure you have the basics covered.

While I agree with my blogging colleague, I think it's equally important to make sure that you provide service that is in keeping with the expectations that you, yourself have set. I've had my own experiences with Hertz #1 Gold Service that was not up to par with the service that they advertised. You shouldn't set the expectation of delivering "exceptional" service if you're willing to settle for delivering service that's only "fine".

Hertz has been advertising service that is better than the rest in their "We're Hertz and They're Not" campaign. When you advertise that you're better than the rest, then you're going to raise customer expectation. You had better put your training, systems and infrastructure resources in place to meet or exceed those expectations - or your customers will walk away unsatisfied.

Don't raise the bar higher than you're willing (or able) to jump!

Who Needs Money?

Closed_sign_2 June 22, 2007 brought storms throughout central Iowa.  If you picked up any local newspaper, damage from tornado, lightning, fire, windstorm, and even flooding were reported. 

Natural occurrences such as these take place frequently. The problem is - we can’t predict the severity of the loss. The real question is, how long will it take for the repairs and when will you be back in business making money?

Imagine that your office building sustains the damage and you have no place to operate your business.  The building is boarded up and the city is going to have to determine whether you need to tear it down or rebuild it.  The insurance company is trying to calculate the dollar amount of your loss to see how much is going to be paid out.  But you need money now!

One very common but overlooked (or underestimated) insurance coverage is business interruption insurance.  This can be the most important form of indirect damage coverage you obtain for your business.  There are several forms available:

  • Business Interruption
  • Extra Expense
  • Combined business interruption and extra expense
  • Consequential Damage

How do you determine what coverage is needed? There are several things to consider. Download business_income_coveragesample.pdf

Don’t scrimp on your business insurance. Mother Nature doesn’t always play nice.

davepatten photo from Flickr

Of The People, By The People, For The People

GettysburgPresident Abraham Lincoln had to be emotional about this speech.  This was more than a vested interest; he was leader and lives were lost under his leadership.  And here he was... standing on the very ground where a fierce battle had been fought.

I've always been fascinated by the Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln was reminding his audience that a mere "four score and seven years ago" they were fighting to become a nation.  Now they were a nation divided.  It was a nation that, in under a century, had lost sight of the goals and ambitions they had fought so hard to gain.  The sense of a unified vision was diminished.

In our projects, we don't lose lives.  We do, occasionally, lose livelihood.  We don't communicate our goals.  We lose sight of our vision.  We fight among ourselves.  We "turn over resources."  Projects are more than just line items on budgets.  Projects are more than the creation of a cool software driven plan.  Projects are more than a weekly meeting followed by a status report that nobody reads.  Projects are about people.  The dreams are the product OF THE PEOPLE.  The tasks for completed BY THE PEOPLE.  The benefits of the project are FOR THE PEOPLE.

When we lose sight of that fundamental truth... well... then the project probably isn't worth fighting for, is it?

On this Independence Day, have a safe and fun celebration with your friends and family... and remember those who have sacrificed for our freedom.

Happy 4th of July and Carpe Factum!

How Healthy is Your Web Presence?

Does your web site need a check-up?  A new exercise regimen? A complete physical?

Let's be honest. Some of us need to diet and won't admit it. Some of us are nutrition freaks - and it could be ruining our health.

In our diets, some fats promote our health; some fats increase the risk to our health.

They say that commercially packaged products are often loaded with trans fatty acids (a bad fat). Too many saturated fats can lead to health risks.

Web sites , especially those designed from a template, are often commercially packaged (Is that design actually a template purchased for $50? And they resold it to you for how much?). They come saturated with keywords which look great in a density cloud ("Your keyword appears 14% on each page"), but it's not friendly reading to the human eye.

Blogs are more organic, they grow naturally - in voice, in readership, and in search rankings. What? Search Rankings aren't important?

Let's be honest. You want to be findable, right? No? What's with that half-page Yellow Book ad? Ah, yes...so people can...yep, thought so....find you.

Blogs are Good FAT, because they promote:

  • Findability: Customers find you, you find them. Because of the nature of blog sites, they become easier to find.
  • Affordability: It's laughable when you compare - and yes, blogware can produce everything your dreamweaver-golive-frontpage-whatever-wysiwyg thing can.
  • Trustability: Truth always bubbles to the top over time. And with consistent updates to your site, your audience will recognize your voice - online and offline.

Enough of the condensed, processed, trans-fatty web sites. And take your website for a walk once in awhile - get it some exercise (update it now and again).

How Healthy is your Web Presence?

6 tips for creating a good print ad

Sale Let's be honest.  Most print ads in newspapers and magazines stink.  We flip through the publications without a glance at the ads or their offers.

How can you avoid being nothing more than a blur?

Make sure your headline has stopping power

If your headline is a snooze, your ad will go unread. It's that simple. Intrigue them, challenge a common belief, ask a question or throw your offer up there - but do not be dull.

Your ad is not about you

Consumers care about their lives and their needs. Not you. So don't waste valuable ad space talking about you. Help them understand how or why you can help them.  Talk to them about what matters to them.

One message

If your audience can only remember one thing from your ad what do you want it to be?  Don’t overload the ad with every benefit and feature to your offering. Stay focused on your main point and don't take the readers off on a bunch of tangents.

Short and sweet

Write the copy that you want to include in your ad. Now cut it in half. It’s a painful process but it forces you to really think through your message.  After you cut it in half, cut it again by a third. Now…you have boiled down to the bare essentials.

Say it visually

The visual you select for your ad is critical. It should help advance the story.  It should not be trite – the same photo everyone else would choose.  You don’t always have to be literal. If you’re going into a trade publication where everyone used a set of trite images to convey the same message, avoid those images like the plague!  Ask yourself "what visual would communicate the message but also surprise the reader?"  That's a winner.

Make your offer clear and compelling

Every ad has one job.  To advance the reader to the next step.  Visit your website, call your 800 number, clip the coupon.  Whatever it is you want them to do…be clear.  And give them a reason to do it now, rather than a few weeks from now.

Print advertising can be a very effective tactic.  But most people don’t make the most of the ads they buy.  Don’t waste good money on bad ads.

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